Amid Controversy, Dave Chappelle Refuses to Allow His High School’s Theater to Be Named After Him

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A formal ceremony to honor one of Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ most renowned alumni — comedian Dave Chappelle — will take place tonight, and the theater building will be called the Dave Chappelle Theater. The school took Chappelle’s support for the school into account when naming the building after him, since he and his pals contributed the most money for it.

After a Netflix special last year in which he was accused of being transphobic, Chappelle has found himself at the focus of a backlash. Even students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts challenged him about it during a November visit.

According to Josh Rogin, a Washington Post writer, and other accounts, the comedian said during the ceremony today that he would not be putting his name on the theater. Instead, he opted to rename it the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. After that, he went on to discuss how his work has been categorized and assessed. “I saw in the newspaper that a man who was dressed in women’s clothing threw a pie at the Mona Lisa and tried to deface it. And it made me laugh, and I thought, ‘It’s like The Closer.’ “

“The Closer,” according to Chappelle, was misrepresented in the media.

A report on an artist’s work cannot, according to him, be stripped of its aesthetic complexity. He contended that “you cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance.”  The comedian likened it to reporting that a huge rabbit shot a guy in the face, but without informing them that the work depicted was a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

“When you say I can’t say something, the more urgent is it for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you are saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression.”